I have always been a sucker for a holiday romance. There’s something about the holidays that allow me to access the over-the-top, gushily sentimental core of my heart that is normally hidden under a layer of “loves complicated realism in romance.” At the holidays, I let myself get overwhelmed with love for and joy in my family and friends, and in my romance novels, I go for the holiday gusto every November and December.
I read a wide range of m/f and LGBTQ romance, and my holiday books are the same. In LGBTQ romance in particular, holiday stories are often focused on queer characters finding and making their own families after being rejected by their birth families. It’s heartbreaking and hopeful and embodies everything I love about holiday romance. Here are some of my favorite holiday books of all kinds:
A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong by Cecilia Grant is one of the most exquisitely written stories I’ve read in the past few years. The dry narrative voice is charming as all get out, and the story itself, of a falconer’s daughter and the gentleman she gets stranded with on the way to a house party, is delightful. It was especially interesting to read about two people who are in society but not of the upper echelon. And the writing! I wore out the highlight feature on my Kindle with this one.
Christmas Kitsch by Amy Lane is perhaps my favorite holiday book ever. It’s the story of Rusty and Oliver, who have been friends throughout high school and are heading toward more-than-friends, although Oliver has to clue the oblivious Rusty into that fact. When Rusty struggles at a too-challenging college and then comes out to his parents, Oliver and his dad and all their relatives are the ones who offer him a new family. This book makes my heart happy every year when I read it.
Kat Latham’s Mine Under the Mistletoe hooked me from page one after Ashley, the heroine from San Diego who’s done an apartment swap with a man in London, kicks Oliver in the junk when he climbs into bed with her in the middle of the night. Terrible winter weather has cancelled all flights, and Oliver didn’t realize Ashley’s plane was one of the last to be allowed to land in London. Two people stranded for the holidays together? Yes, please.
The Dickens with Love by Josh Lanyon is the story of a two men and a book. Lanyon invented a long-lost Christmas story by Dickens for this tale of an antiquarian book hunter in search of redemption and the man who can give it to him. I’ve never wished so hard for an imaginary book to be made manifest. Also, there’s an ocelot, a sparkling cocktail, and one of the heroes (not the book hunter) is named Sedgwick Crisparkle. You just can’t beat that.
The Menage on 34th Street by Elise Logan and Emily Ryan-Davis is kinky holiday fun. I really appreciated how well this book respects the reality of a military man’s restrictions on his behavior. As a fan of Navy SEAL romance, I’m not exactly a stickler for realism in most of my military romance, but I love how this book makes it clear that a marine can’t just set up house with a married couple without repercussions. There’s also lots of talk about communication and family meetings in this book about a trio with a complicated past.
Jodie Griffin’s Matzoh & Mistletoe is another kinky holiday book, about Becca, who volunteers every Christmas with her synagogue so others can celebrate, and Jeremy, the sexy cop she rides along with every year. I love finding holiday stories that include Jewish characters, so this was a treat. Also, angsty and hot!
ZA Maxfield’s Secret Light is another holiday story that pushes beyond Christmas. In Los Angeles in 1955, Rafe is hiding both his homosexuality and his German Jewish heritage, working hard to avoid prejudice by excelling as the slickest, most successful salesman in his company. After Rafe’s home is vandalized, he meets Officer Ben Morgan, and all of his secrets start to come out. Rafe’s fear is palpable in this period romance, and I found the story absolutely heartwarming.
Every year, I go on a holiday romance buying binge. This year, I’ve got Heidi Cullinan’s Winter Wonderland, Caro Carson’s The Maverick’s Holiday Masquerade, and Joanna Chambers’s Humbug at the top of my list, but I want more! Got any recommendations for terrific holiday romance for me? Gimme!
Amy Jo Cousins writes contemporary romance and erotica about smart people finding their own best kind of smexy. Her most recent book is Real World. She lives in Chicago with her son, where she tweets too much, sometimes runs really far, and waits for the Cubs to win the World Series.
Fun facts: Amy Jo can get back into a kayak in the open water if she falls out of it, taught herself and her son how to say I love you in seventeen languages, and once ran the table in a game of eight ball.
Real World is the fifth book in Amy Jo’s Bend or Break series.